Music has always been ingrained in Chel’s DNA.
The rising pop artist knew she wanted to be a musician for as long as she can remember, and even her parents say the Springfield, Illinois native came out of the womb singing. She signed up for her first lessons at the young age of five and hasn’t given up since. Now, that hard work is paying off: After years of laying the groundwork, everything is coming together.
Last year, Chel went viral with an empowering anthem called “Nasty Woman.” The fiercely femme bop amassed hundreds of thousands of streams and netted her a well-deserved hit. A string of equally catchy releases followed, including her most recent single, “View From Down There.”
The sassy, autobiographical bop details Chel’s response to the swarm of fair-weather supporters who are suddenly checking in on the hard-working diva (and asking for favors) now that she’s doing so well.
“This song is about someone who has fought really hard to achieve their goals and has now achieved a lot of them,” Chel explains. “Through this process, they had support from close family and friends, but not from everyone. Fast forward to now, when this person is doing well, all the people who neglected to support them in the past, are now trying to be a part of the momentum. The song is a bit tongue-in-cheek. And it feels good to sing it and to say it because it is a story I have lived.”
While the song itself is cheeky, the music video for “View From Down There,” premiering exclusively on PopCrush, is a decidedly glamorous affair. Directed by Matthew Freiheit, the visual delivers gorgeous fashion, dramatic lighting and an ethereal hall of clouds. Every component highlights Chel’s irresistible star power and leaves viewers longing for more. (They’re in luck, as the singer has plans for an action-packed 2021, including “a lot of new music and probably some visuals.”)
Below, learn more about the mega-talented artist’s new video, the breakaway success of “Nasty Woman,” her love of a specific Alicia Keys track and more.
“View From Down There” is such a fun song. It feels like a little bit of a kiss-off, but it’s still classy. What was it like working on the song and how did you get the idea for it?
I started working with a producer Chris Davies. He made this amazing piano riff, which is what’s on it now. And it felt good. It felt soulful. I loved the way it felt and sounded. Then when we started coming up with melodies they felt really good. I think I was just in this mode of… I had a lot of people reach out who have known me for years but really haven’t reached out until recently.
They were asking for favors of me: Like if I would post about their business, things of that sort. I kind of was feeling like, “You know, you couldn’t be bothered to tell me how amazing I’m doing on the way up. You couldn’t have been bothered to share my songs or any of this, but now that I’m doing really well… Now you have all the compliments, and you have all the favors to ask.” I was feeling frustrated. So that was really on my mind when I sat down and was writing this song. I think I had been dealing with that the whole week prior to writing this song.
I wanted to make something that was like… my whole career has been people telling me I didn’t look the right part. Why I was too fat. Why it wasn’t realistic. Why I should go for something that has more job security. I battled with that for the majority of my career. That coupled with the story I was just telling you about kind of made me want to write this song. You know, I wanted to tell the story. It starts off “random numbers on my phone, don’t know to whom they belong.”
I have a lot of people that are contacting me now. It’s a lot of the same people that tried to downplay me, that tried to underestimate me. Now that I’m here they tell me that they never doubted me. What I have to say back to that is I’m sorry if I didn’t respond. I’m so busy I forgot to care. Which is most of the time true. I try to respond to as many people as possible, but a lot of times I get too busy. Or, you know, I have to pick and choose what I make time for because I’m working very hard.
For myself, it’s very relatable. And I didn’t want to be… excuse me, I didn’t want to be too big of an a–hole. Which is why I tried to do it in somewhat of a classy manner. I feel like a lot of people go through that. Where they’re shooting for the stars, there’s a lot of people along the way that tell them, “Maybe shoot a little lower. Maybe you should tone it back a little or redirect yourself.” Then if you continue to work towards it, and you get somewhere out there in the stars, then those people are the same people to say, “You know I always believed in you.” I think it happens all over the place in every industry in so many people’s lives.
I think it is a very relatable song, which is what makes it so attractive. The production is strong, but it’s great the way you’re handling the concept matters. It’s not angry. It feels more unbothered.
That is the case. I’m not angry. It’s not that I feel any sort of anger towards any of these people. And if I can help, of course I will. It’s just… I don’t feel any great obligation to anyone. I appreciate any support. I don’t know how to really explain it.
You really have achieved so much in a relatively short period of time. Did it feel cathartic to be singing this song?
First of all, thank you. Second of all, I’ve been at this. I’m in the Midwest right now visiting my family. I was cleaning out my room at my parent’s house. It was so funny because I found sheet music from the third grade. Then I found singing competition medals from when I was 11. Then I found these CDs I made. I went to these camps called Power Chord Academy. It was a camp where they put a band together, and you got to record a song and perform it. It was just these little tokens throughout my life of all these points.
Professionally, I started working on my career about eight-and-a-half years ago. But it’s been my dream my whole life. It was a little overwhelming for me when I was going through all of this, and I could see it all from this very young age. Coming from a small town in the Midwest and having these dreams of being a pop singer. Growing up in an era where there wasn’t Lizzo. There wasn’t Adele. Me being a heavy kid telling people I wanted to be Christina Aguilera. It’s been hurdles, the whole way getting people to get on board when I did start making music. Getting producers to work with me. Getting people to listen to my music. Getting venues to play at.
And this whole time I’ve been independent. Everything that has happened has been out of a dream and sheer will power. And a few people who have come together to help me along the way. When I look back it feels pretty incredible to be able to accomplish all that I have been able to accomplish off of this dream and will to make it happen…
I like the video a lot because the vibe is very simple but elegant. How did you come up with the treatment?
I typically don’t do this, but I gave the videographer and director full creative control over the music video. It’s funny because I had done a couple photo shoots prior to the video … trying to get a photo for the artwork. I wanted to get one of me in clouds and ended up not getting one that I loved. But I had done two shoots where I got a bunch of pillows from Target and ripped out the stuffing and did photo shoots to make it look like I was in the clouds. So it was funny when the videographer came back and said we want to do some stuff that makes it look like you’re flying in the clouds.
He decided to have all the extras get out their cell phones and have the flashing to symbolize everybody’s on their phone talking about things. It’s all around me. It goes from angry faces to people grabbing at me, which is when you get the hands coming up my legs. Then you’ve got the cloud runway. I think he wanted it to look fashion show-esque. It’s all artistic. It embodies the song even though there’s no real story line; I think it really captures the song well.
I agree. To me it is so glamorous. I love that you mentioned the cloud scenes because I think those were the most striking for me. Was shooting that part as glamorous as it looks?
It’s funny. When it comes to videos I’ve always been a little bit uncomfortable in front of the camera. I don’t know why, but this video in particular… I think it was a mixture of the fact that the director is a super nice person. His girlfriend did my hair and makeup, and she’s super nice. I had a couple of my best friends on set with me. The photographer was super nice, and everybody was helping everybody with everything. I don’t know what it was, but the energy was there. I felt very comfortable, and I felt very sexy. I don’t typically when I do videos. They’re not really aimed at being sexy.
I love to hear that! I want to get back to something you mentioned earlier: You were talking about laying the groundwork for your career. I read in your bio, and one of the things that struck me is that the accomplishment you’re most proud of is that you haven’t given up on following your dream. That’s really commendable to me.
I think anybody who chooses this career path, regardless of whether you get signed to a label or not, it’s tough. You’re going to deal with a lot of hurdles no matter what you look like. Regardless of anything. It’s a tough industry. I think to be successful in this industry you have to have the ability to get back up when you fall down. Because you will fall down.
You can have some incredible successes, turn around and be stagnant. You can either give up at that point or you can try to figure out something else to keep it moving. What I’ve tried to do my whole career is when things get tough I try to think, “Okay, maybe that didn’t work. What can I do now?” Or, “Okay, maybe I’m stuck. What small thing can I do next?” When you look at the biggest goal and think you need to be there tomorrow, it’s kind of taking it one bite at a time instead. Where you do a little each day and eventually it adds up.
Also, you know, I’m not going to act like I haven’t had total mental breakdowns. I have. There’s been a lot of moments where I’m like, “What am I doing?” — and I want to give up. It’s usually after those points that something big is right around the corner.
It sounds like you’ve been laying the groundwork…
I kind of believe in fate. I’ve had a lot of moments. The reason I met [my] producer was because even when I didn’t know what I wanted to do in music I tried to always stay in voice lessons. I was in St. Louis driving in my car, and it went to [commercial]. Usually when it goes to ads you change the channel, and I didn’t that day for some reason. And an ad for Nelly, who is from St. Louis, came on about how he opened a school called Extreme Institute. It was for music recording and engineering and music management. I was like, I wonder if they do voice lessons? I called, and they told me they had one spot left for voice lessons.
I said, “Okay, I’ll take it.” So I started taking lessons there. Two weeks later, they asked me to go on their summer concert tour with Murphy Lee, which is where I met [my] producer. I think things happen for a reason: Right time, right place, and it kind of falls into place. Of course, there’s other factors: You have to actively work towards something. You have to believe in something. But sometimes fate presents you with opportunities, and you have to have your eyes open enough to take those opportunities.
Music has clearly played such a big role in your life for the entirety of your life. If you could cover any one song, what would you want to cover?
The song that I’m always drawn back to for some reason is “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys. It’s been my go-to song since it came out. I don’t know if it’s necessarily the lyrics of it, although I love the lyrics. It’s something about how she signs it, and the way it makes me feel. It’s just beautiful, and I love that song. That’s probably it.
Another thing you mentioned earlier was those victories that keep you going forward. It seems like one of those for you would be “Nasty Woman.” That was a really big song for you last year. Did you know going into the release that it was going to do what it ended up doing for you, or were you surprised by that?
I knew “Nasty Woman” was a big song as soon as we made it. It felt important to me, but it didn’t only feel important. It felt like a good song. On top of it being important and a good song, I felt like it truly embodied me stylistically and lyrically. That feels really good as a songwriter and an artist to have something that just feels like you. A lot of times you can make a song and love what you made and really relate to it, but it may be slightly different from your genre or what you would say is exactly your sound—which is okay. I think it’s good to have dimension in the way your songs sound. But when you get one that just feels like it fits, it’s special. I knew that song was special as soon as we were done with it. The first time I heard the mix of it after laying down all the vocals, harmonies and ad libs, I cried. It was powerful.
Also, knowing all of the women that have fought for equality throughout the last hundred years and prior to that, it just felt like I was contributing in some way, which felt really good. You never know exactly how a song is going to do when you release it. You hope it will do well, but I had a feeling. Because it is an empowering song, and it’s relevant. It was also a very big election with a lot of very big feelings around it. This was a very politically charged song.
You mentioned all of the women who have been fighting for so long. I’m wondering who some of the most influential women in your life are?
Well, both sides of my family have very, very strong women. I feel so fortunate about that. I wrote the song for my grandma. She had given me a little bit of money for the holidays, so I decided to write a song in her honor. She was in the first class of women to graduate from Wharton Business School. Then she had four kids and went back to law school at 45. She marched for the Vietnam War. She marched for women’s rights. She worked for two presidents. She instilled in all of her daughters and granddaughters that if we wanted to, we could strive for more. She had three daughters. All three of them either went to law school or got master’s degrees. I have lots of cousins that have all made a way for themselves. My sister-in-law is very successful. On my dad’s side my grandma has been a nurse her whole life.
All of the women in my immediate family have worked very hard. I have an aunt who is an artist who has not stopped working toward her dreams as an artist. She just went back to school and is getting an art psychology degree, which is amazing. It’s just fun to see all the women around me that have the freedom to chase what their goals are and aren’t afraid to have an opinion and be independent and strong and lift others. To me, that’s why this song is so important. Because there’s a lot of people out there that still feel like they can’t [accomplish what they want to] because they are a woman. We’re still paid less. We still have a lot of hurdles with sexual harassment. Even when it comes to medical [issues], we’ve been studying women’s health issues for less time. We have a lot of development that still needs to happen. That’s kind of my hope: to honor the women around me and to lift up other women at the same time.